Tuesday, January 27, 2009

f.e.a.r. 2 demo - thank you sir may i have another

fear In the summer of 2005 I built my first gaming computer using money from my unglamorous third shift job. Ordering it piece by piece and then putting everything together helped me maintain my tenuous grip on sanity, and after a processor, hard drive, graphics card and monitor upgrade, the same computer continues to serve me today, happily running the Windows 7 beta. The four-year-old keyboard is filthy, but the rest of it is in good working order.

It is (technically) on this same computer that I downloaded and installed my first PC demo, for the hotly-anticipated F.E.A.R. My experiences with this game have been detailed elsewhere, and I agree wholeheartedly with the assessment given there – F.E.A.R. was simply Better As A Demo. Still, it was my first foray into PC gaming, and like many first experiences I remember it fondly, even if in retrospect it was not all that great.

Imagine my nostalgia, then, when I saw the F.E.A.R. 2 demo crop up on Xbox Live late last week. If the demo is any indication it appears to be a by-the-numbers sequel, but because the first game still has a special place in my memory I will offer up some impressions anyway.

Present are the nuggets of gameplay that made the first F.E.A.R. worthwhile – big, fun weapons and satisfying, visceral combat. The even-old-news-in-2005 slow motion mechanic continues to function as a giant Easy Button, making the somewhere-above-average enemy targets sitting ducks, ripe for a shotgun blast to the face. Hey, they even threw in a section where you get to walk around in giant robot armor for no reason. It’s completely gratuitous and feels a little out of place – who gets scared while they’re riding around in a five-ton killing machine? – but it’s still fun enough to get passing marks.

Improved are the environments, at least in the demo. The first F.E.A.R. had you running around an office building, then in the basement of an office building, then in an office building that appeared to be under construction, then in a laboratory that looked a lot like an office building. The F.E.A.R. 2 demo sees F.E.A.R. its basement of an office building, and raises it a creepy elementary school and some Half-Life 2-flavored ravaged city streets. It feels mostly the same, but at least there’s some nice stuff to look at. The school building in particular made me pause in a few places to read the posters on the walls, which is more than anyone ever did in the Mobius strip of hallway that was the first F.E.A.R.

Rob posted yesterday on the psychological terrors of System Shock 2. F.E.A.R. 2 is not like that. Like its predecessor, it subscribes to the Monster In The Closet school of horror, invoking The Ring and Doom 3 in equal measure – these cheap thrills will have you jumping on your first play, but the effect diminishes significantly the next time through. You might be startled occasionally but when all is said and done you won’t be anymore scared than you were when you were watching Ghost Ship. Did… did any of you guys watch Ghost Ship?

Like any good sequel, this one keeps what made the first game appealing and stacks new stuff on top of it, occasionally innovating but mostly sticking to the formula laid out by its predecessor. Add to that a graphical spit shine and viola! instant sequel! I may not purchase F.E.A.R. 2 myself before it hits the bargain bin, but I’ll certainly understand if you do.